US may cut off countries that use Huawei in 5G networks

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo has said America may scale back or cut military and diplomatic ties with countries that use Huawei equipment in national 5G networks

The US government may take the decision to withdraw intelligence access from, and end military co-operation with, countries that continue to use Huawei equipment in their critical national network infrastructure, including 5G, according to secretary of state Mike Pompeo.

Speaking to Fox News, Pompeo said the US has been conducting extensive activities around the world making sure other governments understand what he termed “the risks of putting Huawei in their systems”.

Pompeo explicitly accused Huawei of having designed its systems alongside the Chinese armed forces – something Huawei has always denied – and said the Shenzhen, China-based networking supplier posed a real risk to global security.

“If a country adopts this and puts it in some of their critical information systems, we won’t be able to share information with them or work alongside them,” he told the network.

“In some cases, there’s risk we won’t even be able to co-locate American resources, an American embassy or an American military outpost. There’s real risk and we want to make sure they know not only the risk to their own people but their risk of being able to work alongside the United States in keeping the world safe.”

Although he did not explicitly reference the UK, Pompeo made it clear he was referring to a number of European countries that are currently weighing up their use of Huawei equipment in national networks.

“We will be with this new 5G technology for quite a while and it’s important that we get it right, the world get it right from a security perspective at the outset,” he said.

Read more about the Huawei affair

In a speech given this week at the CyberSec Brussels Leaders’ Foresight 2019 event organised by the Kosciuszko Institute, the UK’s National Cybersecurity Centre CEO, Ciaran Martin, rejected claims made in a Royal United Services Institute report which branded the UK authorities naïve at best if they thought China would not try to exploit Huawei’s presence in national networks to gather intelligence.

The NCSC conducts formal reviews of Huawei through a dedicated Oversight Board, which is chaired by Martin, who said that the UK’s long history of dealings with Huawei, as well as a 10-year, formally agreed mitigation strategy meant it had a “wealth of understanding” of the company.

“It is not in any sensitive networks – including those of the government,” said Martin. “Its kit is part of a balanced supply chain with other suppliers.”

“Our regime is arguably the toughest and most rigorous oversight regime in the world for Huawei. And it is proving its worth.”

Cooperating with the NCSC

In remarks made at a media roundtable on 21 February, Huawei carrier business group head Ryan Ding maintained the supplier was doing everything in its power to cooperate with the NCSC’s requests, and was working to put in place more rigorous trustworthiness frameworks, addressing areas such as product planning and design, software engineering, contract and product lifecycle engineering, engineer capability improvement, and cultural change within Huawei.

However, he also accepted that ultimately the decision as to whether or not to let Huawei bid to supply elements of the UK’s future 5G infrastructure would be down to the UK government alone.

“As a supplier, Huawei cannot decide how much Huawei equipment will be deployed in the UK. Also we cannot make decision on customer’s behalf whether they should choose Huawei or not,” said Ding. “However, I can tell you the multi-operator video call we made yesterday was based on live networks.”

“Also, in the past few years, we have had extensive and in-depth collaboration and innovations with operators on deployment and standards of 5G. Third, I firmly believe a 5G market without Huawei is just like the English Premier League without Manchester United.”

In remarks made on social media on 21 February, Pompeo’s boss, Donald Trump, said he wanted 5G, and “even 6G” networks operational in the US as soon as possible. He urged US networking suppliers to step up their game in the race to innovate around 5G, an area where Huawei is particularly strong.

Implying that he concedes Huawei does have a substantial technological lead, Trump added: “I want the United States to win through competition, not by blocking out currently more advanced technologies.”

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